Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith practiced Wednesday in the wake of his suspension for personal misconduct, even as the team prepared to begin the 2018 season without one of its most important players.
Smith, who will begin serving his penalty the first week of September, did not stop to speak with reporters as he left the field. Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale addressed the situation cautiously.
“It’s a serious matter, and I think the organization had their statement, and Jimmy had his,” Martindale said. “From the father, slash coach in me, I know there’s mistakes that are made in life, and he’s going to have to deal with them. It’s a very serious matter.”
As for his plans to deal with Smith’s four-week absence on the field, Martindale said, “We have a lot of depth, and some guys are just going to have to step up early. We’re still working on how we’re going to do that.”
Reserve cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste was one of the few players to comment. “We’re strong at corner,” he said. “We’re just going to keep on moving, and when it’s time for Jimmy to come back, we’ll welcome him back.”
The NFL announced Tuesday that Smith will be suspended the first four games of the season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. He’s accused of threatening and inflicting emotional abuse on his ex-girlfriend.
In a statement released through the team, Smith took responsibility for his actions and pledged to be a better person and player when he returns to prepare for the Ravens’ Oct. 7 game against the Cleveland Browns. But his suspension represents an emotional blow to a franchise that coped with Ray Rice’s fall from grace because of domestic violence in 2014 and a practical blow to a team trying to make the playoffs for the first time in four years.
After they released Rice, the Ravens said they would handle any future instances of domestic violence with greater care. In their statement on Smith’s suspension Tuesday, they emphasized they had met with domestic violence experts and nonfootball people within the organization before deciding to continue their relationship with the cornerback.
But the Ravens did not make coach John Harbaugh, any leading players from the defense or anyone from the front office available to discuss Smith’s suspension Wednesday. Martindale, their first-year defensive coordinator, spoke for the organization.
House of Ruth Maryland, which describes itself as one of the “nation’s most comprehensive domestic violence centers,” entered into a three-year partnership with the Ravens in 2014, after Rice was arrested and charged with domestic violence following the assault of his fiancee, now wife, Janay Palmer. Four years later, the organization still actively works with the Ravens through training programs, involvement with House of Ruth events, community education and as a resource for the team to use “as-needed,” according to Mitchell Schmale, chief operating officer of Maroon PR, House of Ruth Maryland’s public-relations arm.
Sandi Timmins, executive director of House of Ruth Maryland, issued a statement specifically on Smith’s suspension Wednesday.
“Due to the confidential nature of the work we do every day at House of Ruth Maryland, we do not comment on specific cases,” she said. “However, we do know that one in four women will be a victim of intimate partner violence at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, while abuse is often depicted as strictly physical, intimate partner violence can take many forms, including emotional, economic and sexual. House of Ruth Maryland’s 24-hour hotline is ready to help victims or talk with others about ways they can help make a difference and end intimate partner violence.”
With the suspension, Smith will fail to play all 16 games for the sixth time in eight seasons. So the Ravens have ample experience trying to cover for his absence.
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But the team’s pass coverage has faltered with Smith out, a sign of his rare ability to blanket a top receiver one-on-one. Even last year, with a more talented secondary overall, the Ravens allowed an average of 259.5 passing yards in the four games Smith missed compared to an average of 198.6 in the 12 games he played.
Much of the burden will fall on second-year cornerback Marlon Humphrey, the only other player on the roster with the size, speed and combativeness to fill Smith’s role. Humphrey showed promise as a future No. 1 corner last season, and the Ravens hoped he would take a step forward this season even before they knew Smith would miss time.
They held on to durable veteran Brandon Carr for just such an eventuality. Carr has generally been regarded as a workmanlike corner more than a star, but he’s started all 16 games in each of his 10 NFL seasons and tied a career high with four interceptions last year.
The Ravens will also benefit from the return of Tavon Young, who played well as a rookie before missing all of last season because of a torn ACL. Injuries to other players forced the 5-foot-9 Young to play on the outside at times in 2016. But he’ll likely begin this season as the team’s nickel corner, the role the Ravens envisioned for him when they drafted him in the fourth round.
Beyond those front-line players, the Ravens could lean on 2018 fourth-round pick Anthony Averett, who played well in Monday’s preseason win over the Indianapolis Colts, and Jean-Baptiste, who’s delivered a solid training camp after he spent much of last season on the Ravens practice squad.
“I thought [Averett] made great strides in the Indy game, down there in the red zone,” Martindale said. “He made some big plays down there, and I was really proud of that. That’s just nothing but positive for a rookie to have to be in those situations.”
Asked if he believes the Ravens are better fortified to play without Smith, Martindale said, “Yes, I do. Without a doubt. … The tool box is full. It’s full with our players and our depth, and it’s full with our coverages we can go to if someone is struggling.”